Reference > Brewer’s Dictionary > By-the-by.

 By-road (A).By-the-way 
E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
En passant, laterally connected with the main subject. “By-play” is side or secondary play; “By-lanes and streets” are those which branch out of the main thoroughfare. The first “by” means passing from one to another, as in the phrase “Day by day.” Thus “By-the-by” is passing from the main subject to a by or secondary one.   1

 By-road (A).By-the-way 


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